School is back in session and practice for fall sports has begun. Tackling a busy school schedule, homework, chores, and sports practice can be overwhelming for any student athlete. It can be even more daunting when an athlete’s coach suggests training on your own to make strides as an athlete this year. There are several concerns that come to mind with training on your own. First, you may have never trained without your coach’s supervision, direction and guidance on sport specific drills. Second, you have a very demanding schedule between school, homework, chores, clubs, and somehow squeezing in sleep-you hardly have enough time to train on your own. Third, you may have no idea of how to put your own training program together. Our goal is to provide a better understanding of the purpose of a proper strength training program in the growing young athlete and provide tips on how to train while you are in season. It is important to remember before a child begins any formal strength training program, medical clearance needs to be provided by a physician.
The goal of strength training is to improve sports performance, prevent injuries, rehabilitate injuries, and enhance long term health. To start, the old myth that strength training is detrimental to a child’s growth is out the window. It is safe for children to begin strength training as long as they have proper supervision, have the mental maturity to follow instructions, and perform exercises properly. The emphasis of their training should be focused on developing body awareness, core stability, and joint mobility/flexibility. There is no need, nor is it safe to put a lot of weight on a kid’s back and have them squat. Instead, start with bodyweight exercises until proper form is demonstrated and progress to resistance bands before jumping to heavy weights. It is beneficial to consistently train the core stabilizing muscles in the growing young athlete with challenging bodyweight exercises to improve postural stability and allow for proper movement patterns. Exercises that may improve your core and leg strength as well as postural balance include forearm plank, squats, lunges, single leg squats, calf raises, and single leg balance.
Another component of a good strength training program is developing flexibility or mobility throughout all of your joints. It is common for a child’s muscles to get tight when experiencing a growth spurt as bone growth exceeds muscle length. Incorporating a stretching routine into your training program on off days and regular foam rolling can improve overall muscle flexibility and joint mobility to allow for better movement. Exercises that improve your flexibility include hamstring, hip flexor, quad, and calf stretch. If you have any questions or would like some guidance, it may be beneficial to schedule an appointment with an exercise physiologist. They can help put together a training program specific to you, your schedule, and your sport.
Now that you are back in school, and practice has started you need to determine how to fit this additional training into your busy schedule. In season training is not the time to make major gains in your strength; those gains should have been made in the offseason. During the season, your goal should be to improve sport specific skills while maintaining stability and mobility. These exercises are like going to the dentist, you don’t stop brushing your teeth because you don’t have any cavities. As part of your warm up you should be foam rolling if feasible and priming your muscles with stability exercises so you are ready for that day’s practice. At the end of the season you can reassess with your coach and determine the emphasis of your offseason program to be ready for next year.
Updated November 6, 2019
Michelle Yang, PT, DPT, CSCS, has a special interest in working with young athletes and injury prevention. She is certified in kinesiotape and selective functional movement assessment. Additionally, she is a certified Schroth therapist for scoliosis specific treatment. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and training for marathons.
Joseph T. Molony Jr, PT, MS, SCS, CSCS is a board certified Physical Therapy Sports Clinical Specialist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and Coordinator the Young Athlete Program at Hospital for Special Surgery. He is an internationally published leader in the field of Youth Sports Medicine.